Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Roorbach on Love in Big Bend

This is your weekly dose of contemporary fiction. I call it "Saturday Story Hour."

This week, I'm inspired by Fosco Lives! reader Jill and her recent road trip into (what I imagine is called) the Big Bend country of Texas. Years ago, Fosco was floored by the 2002 collection of The O. Henry Prize Stories (seriously, if you can get a hold of it, it will be worth your while). One of the stories in that collection was called "Big Bend" by Bill Roorbach. At the time, Fosco had never heard of Bill Roorbach before. And, to be honest, he's never read anything by him since. Nor is "Big Bend" even the best story in that collection. However, there is just something about the story that has stuck with Fosco (going on seven years now).

When he read the story, Fosco had also never heard of Big Bend National Park. It's a huge national park that runs along the Texas-Mexico border, where the Rio Grande makes a very big bend (natch). It is extremely popular with birders, like Fosco's Aunt Merrill and Uncle Clark, because it's the home of dozens of species that are difficult to see anywhere else. And as for the terrain, the National Park Service notes:

Sometimes considered "three parks in one," Big Bend includes mountain, desert, and river environments. An hour’s drive can take you from the banks of the Rio Grande to a mountain basin nearly a mile high. Here, you can explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States, and experience unmatched sights, sounds, and solitude.
Roorbach's story is set in the park and he makes it sound absolutely gorgeous. After reading the story, Fosco became fascinated by Big Bend; however, sadly, he has yet to visit (he hasn't really had any good excuses to visit West Texas lately).

The hero of the story is a retired widower who has decided to work as a park employee at Big Bend for a year. He spends his days doing minor physical labor with a diverse team of other men. When we meet him, he has fallen passionately in love with a visiting birdwatcher from Chicago--a woman who is almost thirty years younger, bulky, and married. Her name is Martha Kolodny. Suddenly, Mr. Hunter (our protagonist) is confused:
Another cause of sleeplessness was Martha Kolodny of Chicago, here in blazing, gorgeous, blooming, desolate Big Bend on an amateur ornithological quest. Stubby called her "Mothra," which had been funny at first, given Ms. Kolodny's size and thorough, squawking presence, but which was funny no longer, given the startling fact of Mr. Hunter's crush on her, which had arrived unannounced after his long conversation with her just this evening, in the middle of a huge laugh from Ms. Kolodny, a huge and happy, hilarious laugh from the heart of her very handsome heart.
There is something about the line "a huge and happy, hilarious laugh from the heart of her very handsome heart" that Fosco adores. For me, at least, there is no resisting Martha Kolodny once she's described that way. She is a bringer of joy--both to Mr. Hunter and to the reader.

The other thing about this story that thrills me is the sheer optimism of it. Here are two oldish, semi-unattractive people who lead extremely sad lives in extremely sad parts of the country falling in mad passionate love like giddy teenagers. It's about a second chance at passionate love--but not in a mawkish or sentimental way. I just find it hard to be cynical about love when I'm reading this story. Not to mention that this surprisingly big, bright love is what makes this story work--it makes the images shimmer in Fosco's imagination.

And so, whether or not I ever read anything else by Bill Roorbach, there is a part of me that will always treasure this story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

You can read it here.

You may want to order the O. Henry Prize Stories 2002 from Amazon. Or one of Bill Roorbach's books. Please follow these links:

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Fosco Wears Gloves at the Market

On "Foodie Friday," we shop at Whole Foods.

Big news in Santa Cruz this week: Whole Foods is open! Fosco is thrilled--finally, Santa Cruz can join world-class cities like Reston, Virginia and Sugar Land, Texas! Whee!

In honor of the local Whole Foods grand opening, Fosco would like to call your attention to this article from the HuffPo. Apparently,

One of the most deadly spiders in the world has been found in the produce section of a Tulsa grocery store. An employee of Whole Foods Market found the Brazilian Wandering Spider Sunday in bananas from Honduras and managed to catch it in a container.
Fosco read this report five minutes ago and he's still got the chills. He would love to include a photograph of this spider in this post, but as something of an arachnophobe, Fosco doesn't even want to touch a picture of a spider. [shiver]

In related news, equally venomous Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was sighted at the same Whole Foods, lurking behind the bulk bins. I find pictures of him to be equally shudder-inducing.

UPDATE: Thanks to Todd (I swear he's like FL!'s "citizen reporter"), some corrections are necessary:
  1. There is now the suggestion that the spider was misidentified. The spider was probably a member of a different, harmless species. However, it will be impossible to say for sure as the original spider was destroyed by the University of Tulsa. (The funny part of this story is the surprise and outrage over the destruction of the original spider. As far as Fosco was concerned, that's exactly what you're supposed to do to spiders.)
  2. Fosco does not actually wear gloves at the market. He also never buys bananas.
  3. Venomous senator Tom Coburn was not seen at the same Whole Foods. Rather, according to eyewitnesses, he was spotted at Tulsa's Blossom Day Care Center, feasting on tender babies. We apologize to Senator Coburn for this error.

Lunch with David

"Foodie Friday" is the name of the game today.

Last weekend, Fosco's well-connected and entertaining college roommate David was in town for a brief spring vacation. David and I were able to have a lazy lunch on Friday at San Francisco culinary fixture, The Slanted Door. As you may recall, Fosco is a fan of Charles Phan's local/organic Vietnamese; however, dining at the flagship (as opposed to one of the much cheaper Out the Door takeout spots) is a treat that Fosco generally reserves for special occasions (like his birthday last year, when Oz took him to Slanted Door for dinner).

Slanted Door is an excellent place to take an out-of-town guest. The dining room (as seen above) may be understated and casual, but the real attraction is the floor-to-ceiling views of SF Bay, the Bay Bridge, and Yerba Buena Island (view at right). There is probably no better restaurant view in the city, especially on a sunny day. Add an appealingly casual waitstaff (t-shirted with many tats and pierces), and you have a laid back atmosphere where you can pay attention to the important things in life: visual and gustatory pleasure.

At midday, neither David nor Fosco felt like a cocktail. However, David was intrigued by the appearance of the adjective "biodynamic" attached to the (non-alcoholic) Elderflower spritzer on the beverage menu. Our waiter was only too happy to explain that "biodynamic" refers to a specific organic agricultural method developed in the nineteenth century by Rudolf Steiner. As the waiter explained, it involves treating the farm like a completely closed system. Or something like that. The waiter also noted that "biodynamic" has "metaphysical and astrological connotations," but (thankfully) he declined to elaborate. An organic spritzer with astrological/metaphysical properties? Welcome to San Francisco, David! Actually, both David and I ordered the Elderflower spritzer and it was quite enjoyable (I tasted citrus, David tasted lychee).

Ever since Fosco's birthday dinner with Oz last summer, Fosco has been obsessed with Slanted Door's yellowtail sashimi. It is absolutely exquisite. It comes topped with crispy shallots (like high-end french-fried onions) and Thai basil. I can say without exaggeration that it is a true metaphysical and astrological experience. So of course David and I ordered it. Isn't it gorgeous?

I could eat it once a day. At least.

Slanted Door is family-style and the rest of our meal was a bricolage of yummy Vietnamese specialties, including

  • honey-hoisin pork shortribs (accompanied by extremely hot towels for washing your fingers after)
  • Fosco's favorite green papaya salad (which he's discussed before)
  • the shaking beef--made with tender filet mignon
  • sadly, some very forgettable noodles--why aren't the noodles at Slanted Door better?
Other than the shaking beef, Fosco thinks the best strategy at Slanted Door is, as recommended by No Salad As A Meal, an entire meal of appetizers. Damn, those honey-hoisin ribs were good.

Because it was a special occasion, desserts were ordered. We had beignets with a cinnamon sabayon (are doughnuts ever bad?) and the intriguing "black cardamom tapioca, kumquat geleé, black cardamom pudding and tapioca." Fosco is a big fan of cardamom (even for dessert) and this pudding did not disappoint. It was surprisingly elegant, actually.

After lunch, because Slanted Door is in the gourmet mecca of the Ferry Building (seen above), Fosco and David dropped by Michael Recchiuti for some boutique chocolates. Fosco's loves Recchiuti's rose caramels and bergamot chocolates. Mmmmmmm...

As we left the Ferry Building, the lunchtime line for high-end burger palace Taylor's Automatic Refresher was getting a bit out of hand:

Alas, we had no room for garlic fries.

[Several of these photos (guess which?) were taken by David himself.]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Keith Olbermann: Bust the Trusts

Corporations are not our friends. They do not have our best interests at heart. They don't care about you or your economic well-being.

It's time we did something about that.

Amen, brother.

Tops and Bottoms

Don't be dirty-minded... we're talking rankings, not sexual role preferences.

You may recall that Fosco loves rankings (especially of cities). And because Fosco is not alone, the media has realized that rankings always make popular news stories.

So what's new in the world of rankings? Well, there's a bunch of Bay Area-related news to share.

First, the good news: California's 14th Congressional District is the happiest in the nation. This district covers most of the Peninsula south of San Francisco and stops just north of Santa Cruz. Because Fosco lives in Santa Cruz and Oz lives in Daly City, Fosco ends up driving the length of the 14th District several times a month. He must admit that everyone in it sure looks pretty happy--and rich.

Speaking of rich, the district contains most of Silicon Valley, including Google, Apple and Mmm Carpets. However, as this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel notes:

While higher income and greater opportunity associated with these districts didn't hurt their standing, Amy Neftzger, the lead researcher with Gallup's partner Healthways, said money didn't necessarily translate into happiness. Work, she cautioned, took a toll on physical and emotional health in many parts of the country.
Any guesses as to the least happy congressional district? No, not Indiana's 2nd, but close. It's the bleak Kentucky 5th, on the border with Virginia and West Virginia (median income $21,915).

But not all is pleasant in the Bay Area. As this piece on SFGate notes, San Francisco is one of the ten WORST cities to be unemployed in.
Forbes has compiled a list of the 10 best and 10 worst U.S. cities when it comes to stretching unemployment dollars -- calculated based on benefits versus the cost-of-living. Sadly, San Francisco is the fourth worst city to be on unemployment, better only than New York, Miami and Phoenix.
Phoenix? It turns out the problem there is stingy unemployment benefits (imagine that!). This is how it was all calculated:
In San Francisco, the maximum unemployment benefit is $450 a week, and the cost of living is $113,576 a year. That means the benefits only cover 20.6 percent of the cost-of-living, making getting by on the checks in San Francisco a pretty bleak prospect.
Sigh. And lest you think that the top of list is populated by cities that you would prefer not to live in (employed or unemployed), you should know that both Boston and Seattle somehow made the Top 10.

Let's wrap things up with some college rankings. According to this piece in the Sentinel, has named UC Santa Cruz the second best campus for surfing in the nation. The top? UC San Diego. No surprise there, really. The worst surf campuses weren't ranked, but I'm pretty sure the University of Oklahoma is near the bottom.

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Hentai Goes High Culture

N.B., there are parts of this post (farther down) that might be a little NSFW. Be warned.

Somehow, Fosco managed to ignore most of the hullabaloo around last year's Takashi Murakami retrospective which started at the MOCA in LA and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum (among other places). Sure, Fosco skimmed the New Yorker review, but didn't pay much attention. Murakami just isn't quite Fosco's style.

Takashi Murakami (not to be confused with Haruki Murakami, whose exquisitely beautiful novels Fosco does love) is something of an art sensation. To Fosco, T. Murakami looks eerily like the future version of Hiro Nakamura from TV's "Heroes." Murakami's art, however, is not from the future--it's insistently of the present. I guess you could call his work "pop art"--in that it owes much to popular forms of animation and illustration (especially manga). Yes, there are lots of anthropomorphic flowers, mushrooms, and god-knows-what:

It's like the materialization of an LSD hallucination--at least, that's what I imagine it would it be like.

It's also relentlessly, and intentionally, commercial. You may recall the frisson caused by the inclusion, in the middle of the actual exhibit, of a fully-functioning Louis Vuitton boutique dedicated to selling Murakami's designs for Vuitton. As this piece in the Village Voice notes, the Vuitton boutique was one of the principle draws of the Murakami show in the first place. You may recognize this Murakami design for Vuitton:

If you think this pattern is unforgivably gaudy, you should see this design translated into actual decor in Fosco's December photograph of the Manhattan Louis Vuitton boutique:

It's eye-catching, sure; but isn't it all a little... vulgar?

Apparently, in all of Fosco's studied ignorance of 2008's Murakami-fest, he managed to avoid knowledge of one sculpture in particular. Somehow, Fosco missed (in Peter Schjeldahl's review of the retrospective) this description of

another, “My Lonesome Cowboy,” is of a masturbating boy whose ejaculate twirls upward like a lariat.
If you're wondering what on earth this might look like, Fosco's got your back. Behold!

Hell's bells, that's disturbing! Are you repulsed, yet unable to look away? Well, here are some more views:

The title, My Lonesome Cowboy (referring to an Andy Warhol film), is pretty great. And sure, there's something cute about his face (he is an anime boy, after all); and yes, I would probably kill to have his hair. But that cum lasso? Freaky. Which I guess is the point.

[Note: in the Village Voice piece, the author claims that the boy "has some kind of disgusting gray effluvia shooting out of his wiener." Ummm, I think we call that "semen." Art interpretation: Ur doin it rong.]

Want to know how Takashi Murakami himself would explain this sculpture? You can take an online tour of this room of the exhibition (choose Exhibition Tour, Part 1).

But wait, this story gets even better: the sculpture just sold at auction for over $15 million (when commission is included). As this blog notes, Sotheby's was expecting the piece to go for $3-$4 million, so this was pleasant surprise. As the shape+colour blogger notes, Murakami is so popular right now that he can do no wrong:
And when you can do no wrong, your life-sized sculpture of a bright-eyed anime manga-boy jerking off and whipping his jizz into a gigantic lasso around his head will sell at auction for $13.5 million US.
I guess that's how you know you've "made it."

Thanks to Todd for bringing this story to my attention.

If you want to read more about Takashi Murakami (or read some novels by Haruki Murakami), you can click through on these buttons:

Fosco will receive a tiny percentage and he will be grateful.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parapraxis or Sheer Stupidity?: You Be the Judge!

Fosco understands that people--including public figures--regularly misspeak. And I certainly don't want to ascribe deep meaning to every slip of the tongue (sorry, Uncle Freud). But sometimes, you just can't avoid the sneaking suspicion that the mis-speaker has unintentionally revealed something true.

From this article in the HuffPo, describing GW Bush's plans for his (not yet contracted) book:

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened," Bush said. [italics mine]
As a description of Bush's eventual book, I suspect this will be one hundred percent accurate. In fact, I think George just wrote the tagline for the jacket!

What A Mess Is Texas!

Fosco is bedeviled by Texas.

Until recently, Fosco was willing to write off the entire state as a physical manifestation of his worst Bushian nightmares. I mean, other than the theocracy of Utah, Texas seems to be the closest thing we have to the "ideal" model of a conservative state--and a particularly dim-witted one, at that.

But then Fosco started to warm up to Texas--just a bit. For one thing, the state appears to be America's kolache capital. For another thing, Fosco's absolutely favorite band hails from Texas. And then there is the fact that several of the best readers of FL! live in Texas (you know who you are!). Clearly, Texas has redeeming value. And, to judge from this recent roadtrip by Jill, Texas has some beautiful and interesting places: artist colonies, dessert cantinas, spas.

However, just when Fosco reaches the point of thinking "Hey, maybe Texas isn't too bad," he reads stuff like this (from the always trenchant Jonathan Turley):

Don McLeroy, controversial Chair of the Texas State Board of Education, has released his top choice of his recommended reading list: “Sowing Atheism” by Robert Bowie Johnson, Jr. — a book billed by creationists as disproving evolution and exposing the worldwide atheist conspiracy. When combined with the effort to create an advanced degree in “Creation Science” in Texas, the state will soon rival Iran and Saudi Arabia as a bastion of medieval thought.
Yes, that's right: the head of the State Board of Education wants everyone to know that there is an atheist conspiracy afoot. Remember when, just ten years ago, we were making fun of Kansas? The difference, of course, is that Kansas wised up. Good job, Texas: you just made Kansas look progressive. Sigh.

But that's not all. Here's another Texas gem from Jonathan Turley:
Houston police and prosecutors are arresting people for potty-mouths. The Texans were shocked when New Yorker Abraham Urquizo, 35, used the “F-word” twice while arguing with his girlfriend at Salsa’s Mexican and Seafood Restaurant. They are clearly unaware that the word can be used as an adjective, noun, verb, adverb, participle, and a gerund in New York.

The crackdown on bad language would seem unconstitutional on its face under the first amendment. This is the second such arrest in eight months — citing them for disorderly conduct.
All I can say is "Fuck that." But seriously, has law enforcement in Texas really been so successful at preventing other crimes that it can now turn its attention to public cursing? And what about Texas's vaunted spirit of independent libertarianism? Doesn't this type of arrest smack of the kind of "police state" that conservatives are always decrying?

Oh Texas, why must you jerk me around like this?

UPDATE: Fosco clarifies his feelings about Texas in the comment section below. My apologies to my Texas readers for how this whole discussion went down. Alas, Fosco doesn't always think deeply before he posts.

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Local Wildlife Roundup

Watch out, animal-lovers! Here come some charismatic megafauna:

  • Let's start with the good news (well, at least semi-good news). Last week, there were sightings of two different killer whale pods off the Bay Area coast. You can watch the news report here. Did you know that different Orca pods can choose to eat different types of food? As Wikipedia notes:
    specific populations show a high degree of specialization on particular prey species.
    One of the pods seen off the coast is a pod of salmon eaters; the other pod was seen killing harbor seals. This is good news because Fosco loves Orcas (he has a stuffed Orca named "Baby Shampu"). Sadly, however, this is bad news, because at least one of these pods is typically known to feed in the waters off Puget Sound and their appearance this far south suggests that food supplies are getting scarce.
  • And now the bad news. According to this piece in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "an assortment of factors suggests California's sea otter population is in decline." As you may have noticed, Fosco also adores sea otters. Sometimes I wish I could offer Oz's bathtub as an otter habitat.
  • But one form of local wildlife is in full swing: roller girls. As in roller derby. This week, the Sentinel featured this slide show of a match(?) between the Santa Cruz Rollergirls and "the L.A. Derby Dolls Sirens." Although they are all interesting, Fosco's favorite picture is probably this one:

    I think this photo pretty much captures everything that Fosco wants to believe about roller derby.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Hello, Chieftains!"

The inaptly-named "Muesic Tuesday" continues...

As Fosco mentioned earlier, today is apparently some sort of Irish-themed holiday. Consequently, there should be some mention of Irish music today. Unfortunately, Fosco loathes any kind of traditional Irish music. Not to mention his recent feelings about U2.

Luckily, there is one Irish folk song that Fosco can stand. It's this duet between Brak and The Chieftains. There is much to love in this clip (and Fosco laughs out loud every time he watches it), but the best part may be the way Brak says "Chieftains."

Now that is inspired zaniness. Happy Saint Patrick's Day from Brak, The Chieftains, and Fosco!

Bleed ears, bleed I say!

After postponing "Music Monday" until today, Fosco is tempted to postpone again (I'm still deep in a paper). But that would lead to a complete breakdown of order. Chaos. Anarchy. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

And so, it's what we will call "Muesic Tuesday" here at the FL!

Fosco has already discussed his love of über-wussy music like Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. But you know, sometimes Fosco just needs to forget himself and bang his head for a bit--the nihilism of really loud music. And that's where a band like A Place to Bury Strangers comes in.

A Place to Bury Strangers generally produces a consensus in their reviews: the band is loud. As in LOUD. NPR lauds them as "Louder Than The Rest." notes that the band's 10-inch single actually broke the record presser during production because it was too loud (seriously--follow that link). And Noise Pop happily suggests "A Place to Bury Strangers are the loudest band in New York--and maybe the entire country?"

(The same site helpfully provides the three typical responses of an angry venue owner who has booked this band:
“Get the f*** out of here!”
“I am going to kill you.”
“I've only had to wear earplugs twice in my entire life and both times were tonight.”)

While it goes without saying that Fosco would never be able to handle an APtBS live show, he loves to turn his stereo volume down to reasonable levels to enjoy their music at home. And here's the big secret: the music of APtBS, for all its decibelity, is also surprisingly melodic. Think New Order (and then add a wall of guitar haze). And that may just explain why Fosco likes them so much.

So for your Tuesday listening pleasure, Fosco offers two songs from A Place to Bury Strangers. The first video is actually a real music video from the band. According to the explanatory notes on YouTube:

This innovative video is surely the first trans-continental video shot in an RV on a webcam.
Umm, yeah, so there's that. This is "I Know I'll See You."

The second video is just a song, but it's Fosco's favorite song on their self-titled album. This is "Missing You."

Crank down your speakers and enjoy!

Irish Accents

It has come to Fosco's attention that today is Saint Patrick's Day. If you want to giggle for a couple of minutes, please enjoy the holiday greeting at the top of the righthand column. It's a tribute to the irrepressible Irish accent by Fosco's own college roommate David Lat, filmed this past weekend at the San Francisco St. Pat parade.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coming Soon: Soleil Moon Frye's Philosophical Ontology

Fosco is completely exhausted and maybe a little ill after a weekend of working hard and playing hard. Because he has no energy today (and still some work to finish), he's going to postpone "Music Monday" until tomorrow--at which point it will become "Muesic Tuesday" or something like that.

For your Fosco Lives! pleasure today, I can offer you this brief anecdote. Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, Fosco decided that he needed a specific academic book immediately for his paper-in-progress. The book is Basic Philosophical Writings by Emmanuel Levinas. The cover looks like this:

Because Fosco was in Daly City at Oz's place, the UCSC library was not a good option. Fosco decided that the most likely bookstore on the entire SF Peninsula to carry this book would be the Stanford bookstore in Palo Alto. Fosco called and reserved the book at said Stanford bookstore (they had it in stock!) and stopped by Palo Alto on the way to visit a friend in Santa Clara. I won't go into details about the difficulty of locating the Stanford bookstore (just know that it was hard).

Once inside the bookstore, Fosco went to retrieve the book from the Information Desk. That's where he had the following conversation:

FOSCO: You're holding a book for me?
FOSCO: [gives his name]
EMPLOYEE: [fetches book from shelf, glances at the cover.] Emmanuel Lewis?
FOSCO: [assuming that she's making a (pretty clever) joke] Something like that.
EMPLOYEE: [looks at cover again] Oh! Emmanuel Levinas! I read it wrong.
FOSCO: That's okay, I think that's funny. [starts to walk away]
EMPLOYEE: [calling out after Fosco] "Whatchu talkin bout, Willis?"

I think there are numerous lessons that we can learn from this interaction:

  1. A book's cover design is key--splitting the author's name into two separate fonts that point in two separate directions is a recipe for disaster.
  2. People tend to confuse Emmanuel Lewis and Gary Coleman (or, even worse, tend to assimilate Lewis completely to Coleman).
  3. TV's "Webster" lacked the necessary sassy catchphrase that would have made the show memorable twenty years later.
I can already imagine the LOLtheorists pix that some of Fosco's loyal readers will submit... Todd?

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Fosco loves anything that is both beautiful and unexpected. And so here, for your Sunday pleasure, are some unexpectedly beautiful things.

From the ready-to-wear(!) collection of Junya Watanabe:

See more from this collection here.

Fosco had never heard of Manish Arora until he saw the pictures below. Ummm, wow. Jaw-dropping. Like nothing I've seen before.

You can see more of this collection here.

You may know that Fosco loves houndstooth--LOVES it! Well, then how can he not love the dress on the right from the Fall 09 collection of Alexander McQueen? It's houndstooth undergoing some magical Escher-esque transformation into a flock of birds. It's ravishing, no?

I mean, LOOK at it! Unbelievable.

You can get a better idea of the pattern itself from this (also pretty gorgeous) dress:

You can see more of this collection here. You can read the NYT review of his collection here.

Sincerest thanks to FABULON, where Fosco saw all of these in the first place.